Teacher and pupils
Don Laird

Back to School: A Mental-Health Check List

It’s that time of the year again. When a simple three-word phrase evokes dread for most school-age kids and relief for most parents: “Back to School.” Yet, ask any parent, child or teacher, heading back to the classroom is not without its challenges. It can be an exceptionally difficult time of transition for children who suffer from a mental health or learning issue.

Anxietyespecially unrealistic self-expectations and generalized fear of the world at largeis growing among school-aged children and adolescents these days. Potential root causes for this are both broad and complex, and worthy of a separate, stand-alone article. So returning to school can be an enormously challenging task for any child. Let alone one who struggles with anxiety.

Let’s look at it through a practical lens. Children are away from home and routine, and the rules have changed. The school environment requires certain demands that a typical summer setting does not. Summer rarely needs a child to sit still, stay organized, remain focused and on task and adapt to an extremely structured schedule.

Here are five things you should keep in mind before the first homeroom bell rings:

  1. Anxious Parents, Anxious Kids.

Modeling confidence and calm behaviors are central to most parenting situations, particularly when preparing a child ready for school. By fostering structure and daily routine in family life (bedtime, homework, etc), parents will find this transition period to be much smoother. Giving your kids too many choices about routine can backfire and ultimately put them in the seat of control. Remember, you are the parent.

Anxiety issues and traits can run in families. Children with anxious parents run a greater risk of experiencing anxiety themselves. It is still debatable (just read all the conflicting studies when you are having trouble sleeping) as to whether it is genetics, environment, both or something else, but there is no smoking gun when it comes to the root sources for anxiety.  Yet, it is quite observable that children – and most adults – can be like energy sponges, absorbing energy and assimilating behaviors. Remember, a child is usually no calmer than his or her least-relaxed parent. Anxiety can impact someone’s ability to focus, stay on task and is generally categorized by a state of unrealistic and persistent worry.

Sometimes it can be difficult to vet between what is age-appropriate behaviors and anxiety, but if you have concerns you should first discuss these with your child’s teacher and then a mental health professional should the behaviors continue to escalate.

  1. Teachers Can Be Your Best Ally.

Teachers get to know how a child behaves without family being present. Thus, parents can gain information about learning difficulties and peer problems and friendships. Teachers are your closest allies when it comes to your child’s success in school, and you should talk to them regularly. You will learn more about how your child is navigating his or her world, both academically and socially, by talking with the teacher.

  1. Routines Are Crucial.

Above all, be positive and encouraging. Examples of some good routines might include creating an uncluttered work space in the home; organizing a backpack, reviewing assignments; and discussing homework. You can observe your child’s strengths and weaknesses this way while also establishing and fostering good study habits. Also, be sure that your child is staying hydrated with lots of water and has the recommended amount of sleep for his or her age group.

  1. Don’t Worry.

Kids grow, learn and develop at different rates. A delay in one area of development doesn’t necessarily mean your child has a disorder. There needs to be significant evidence and some testing to reach any firm conclusion. However, if you suspect there might be a problem with your child’s development, talk to her teacher and consult with a mental health professional.

  1. Leave Them Alone.

This may sound counterproductive or even counter intuitive, but a child needs downtime. A schedule that is bursting at the seams, with little or no room for relaxation is also ripe for an anxious or depressed child. Give them time. Life is short, sometimes hard. Don’t unpack your stuff on that person who happens to be your child. Give them breathing room, and let them find out that the world can be a secure and inviting place without regimented schedules.

If you would like to continue the conversation or discuss more techniques to overcoming anxiety, contact me to schedule an appointment or free phone consultation today.

In Good Health,
Don

Group of friends smiling and taking a selfie
Christy Gualtieri

Confidence of Character

When I was a kid, I loved watching The Monkees on TV.  It aired really early in the morning, like 4:00 a.m. or some other ridiculous time, and since I was a kid before the glory days of DVR, I had to set my alarm to get up to watch it. I’d sneak out of my room and over to the TV, and flip it on to watch before I got back into bed. Davy Jones was my favorite -to me, he was the cutest one – but I loved the whole show: the slapstick, the songs, and all of the jokes. When Jones passed away some years ago, I was so sad; and when another of The Monkees, Peter Tork, passed away recently, I was saddened, too.

Peter was my second favorite on the show, and I was always drawn to him the same way I was drawn to George Harrison from the Beatles and Howie from the Backstreet Boys – these guys who weren’t the stars of the show, but people who contributed just the same. Maybe they stood out to me because their personalities seemed so different than mine, but I really think it’s because they were quieter people who didn’t need the spotlight as much.

You might know people like this in real life: people who know who they are, who are self-assured and confident in themselves. Maybe you’re even one of these people, and if you are, I salute you! I find it difficult for me to have that self-confidence that is content with my life and the way I live it. It’s a funny thing, because it’s the opposite of what you’d think is true: the more self-assured you are, the less you need outside validation – and the more people will probably end up validating you, because they’re drawn to you.

Maybe not right away, though. I think a lot of people, especially these days, get caught up in the flashiness, the glitz and the glamour – the costumes, and not the costume designer, so to speak. But there is a great value in being the one who doesn’t need the world to tell them how to be. They are themselves, uniquely themselves, and it’s a wonderful thing to see because it’s authentic, it’s real, and because there is only one you on the planet, it’s irreplaceable.

So to those of you who are the quiet ones that know who they are and who live that well, keep it up! And for those of you who are quiet and think you’re invisible, you’re not. People see you. By all means, reach out to others if you feel alone, but know that if your personality runs contrary to the people in society who think that you’re nobody if you don’t shout everything all the time, it’s okay to just be yourself. You’re just as needed and as valuable as everyone else.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

***

eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor onlineAbout the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

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Christy Gualtieri

My Anxiety: A Play In One Act

by Christy Gualtieri

Everyone processes their anxieties differently, and not everyone worries about the same things. Some people worry about catastrophic events; some people worry about weather patterns; some worry about economic situations. If you’re like me, you’ll worry about everything. Equal-opportunity worrier.

Not only that, if things are going relatively well in your life, you’ll go out in search for things to worry about. Why in the world would anyone want to do this, you might ask? Well, for me, it’s partly because 1) I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s become a daily habit; and 2) because in a twisted, really weird way, my mind thinks it works.

For example: if I have an important appointment coming up, and I worry about it to the point of not being able to take care of myself, and the appointment turns out okay, then my worrying made it better. Or, if I worry about it and it turns out I had something to worry about in the first place, then I was “right” to worry. It’s messed up, I know. But I’ve spent more than a decade now working to unravel the worrying process and getting to a point where I can better control the anxiety.

Want to know what it’s like for me? Picture this:

[Setting: CHRISTY’s home.  It’s a beautiful day, things are going well.]

CHRISTY:

What a wonderful afternoon! The kids are playing by themselves, all the chores are done around the house, I’m all caught up with work…things are feeling pretty good right now! Maybe I’ll —

[There’s a KNOCK at the door.  CHRISTY opens it. ANXIETY is standing there.]

ANXIETY:

Hey girl, heyyy.

CHRISTY:

Oh, um, hey.

[ANXIETY walks right in, holding a calendar in one hand and a clock in the other.]

ANXIETY:

Wow, look at you! All accomplished. Dishes are done and everything! Nice. Listen, there’s 47 hours until your daughter’s dentist appointment! It’s her first one, right? You know she likes juice more than your son does. And sugar, too. What’s her favorite breakfast again?

CHRISTY:

Um…

[Looking past ANXIETY out the door, hoping to get her out]

Pancakes.

ANXIETY:

Right! With syrup and whipped cream. Anyway, are you ready?

[She closes the door behind her and walks further into the house.]

CHRISTY:

Well, I mean, we brush her teeth twice a day, and they look okay. It’s not like –

ANXIETY:

[Interrupting]

No, I mean, like are you packed?

CHRISTY:

Packed?

ANXIETY:

Yes.  Did you pack her stuff? Because she’s probably going to be taken away from you.

CHRISTY:

What?

ANXIETY:

You can’t have a child with a mouth full of rotting teeth and, like, expect to keep her.

CHRISTY:

That is crazy! You –

ANXIETY:

Anyway, so you have the dentist. What else is up this week? Anyone leaving the house in a car?

CHRISTY:

[weakly]

My son rides the bus to school.

ANXIETY:

Oh right! Yeah, he’ll probably get run over getting to it.

CHRISTY:

Well, now, wait a minute —

ANXIETY:

Do you not watch the news? It happens every day. EVERY DAY.

[There’s another knock on the door.]

I’ll get it.

[ANXIETY opens the door to reveal a smooth-looking man and beautiful woman.]  Oh hey, it’s INSECURITY and PANIC! What’s up!!

PANIC:

Whaaaaaat’s up! Hope you’re ready to party! I bought some sweet drinks.  This one’s called…

[Checks label]

“Crying In The Shower,” and I got a six-pack of “Constantly Nauseous!”

[He walks over to the table and pours himself a huge glass.]

INSECURITY:

My Instagram is, like, blowing up. You have to check this out – so many beautiful posts from people who actually have their lives together!

ANXIETY:

So the opposite of Christy, then?

[PANIC spit-takes his drink.]

INSECURITY:

It’s awesome! You could seriously scroll all day and actually feel yourself turning into something less than a human being.

ANXIETY:

How long has Christy been on it today?

INSECURITY:

Ooh, let me check! Um…forty-seven minutes.

ANXIETY:

In just one day?!

CHRISTY:

(weakly)

I think you guys better leave.

[Everyone clearly ignores CHRISTY.]

INSECURITY:

Look. Here’s a woman who has five kids – five! – and homeschools and has a beautiful house and makes her own kimchi and is probably a model. How many kids do you have, Christy?

CHRISTY:

Two.

INSECURITY:

Hmm.

CHRISTY:

I have a house, though! I mean, it’s not clean, but —

INSECURITY:

Don’t be stupid. No one has a clean house in real life, Christy. At least get some decent filters for your camera so it can LOOK like you do.

ANXIETY:

[Horrified]

Do you seriously not have filters?

CHRISTY:

I don’t take pictures of my house!

ANXIETY:

Oh, that’s right. Good luck finding a job doing anything online. No one’s going to relate to you as a blogger if you don’t show pictures of your house. Or your family.

INSECURITY:

Or your dog.

CHRISTY:

We don’t have any pets.

INSECURITY:

Why do you hate animals so much?

PANIC:

You are seriously the worst person ever.

CHRISTY:

I…

PANIC:

Yo, listen, I have a great idea. Let’s hang out here for a few days. My schedule’s open, how about you guys? It’s the winter, it’s snowing out, there’s not much going on, what do you say?

CHRISTY:

I’m not feeling so well, guys. I think I’m going to take a shower.

ANXIETY:

No worries, we’ll be here when you get out.

PANIC:

[Calling after CHRISTY]

Don’t forget to cry!

__

My mind could definitely benefit from someone putting a stop to pretty much all of this. My ideal scenario? Kind of looks like this:

[Setting: CHRISTY’s home. She’s in the family room, about to sit on the couch, and on a chair nearby a huge, incredibly bulky man wearing a tight-fitting shirt that says CALM on it sits, silently knitting.]

CHRISTY:

Man, it’s been a rough day today. The kids were out of control and work was crazy, but I finally have some time to myself to actually calm down and relax for a minute.

[KNOCK at the door.]

Oh, hey, could you get that?

[CALM gets up, walks to the door, and sees ANXIETY, INSECURITY, and PANIC standing outside, craning their necks to try to peek in.]

ANXIETY:

Oh, hi, is Christy home?

PANIC:

Yeah, we haven’t seen her in a while, just wanted to stop by and —

[CALM looks at them, completely stone-faced. He looks them over, lifts up his hand, and slams the door in their faces. He returns to the chair, picks up his knitting and resumes his work as though nothing had happened.]

CHRISTY:

Thanks!

I’m not there yet, but my hope is that I’ll get there one day. And I know it seems silly, but the next time you are overwhelmed with anxiety and worry, try writing out your concerns – they might take on a different light once they’re out of your head!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

 

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Christy Gualtieri

Passing It On

by Christy Gualtieri

It’s happening.

I didn’t know if it would or not – to be honest, I didn’t really think about it, because he’s so young, but I should have guessed that it would happen to at least one of my kids.

My son is anxious.

Like me.

His worries seem so small, but I know they are big to him – large, looming things – and all I want to do is take them away, because I know how miserable a life of worrying is.  I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

My parents were both smokers, and when we kids were growing up, the rule was that we weren’t allowed to smoke in the house until we were eighteen.  “We smoke, so we won’t be able to smell it on you,” my mother would say. “We’ll trust that you’re telling us the truth if we ask and you say you don’t.  We don’t want you to start smoking, but if you do, you have to wait until you’re old enough to be able to smoke in the house.”

I never got into smoking.  But I really got into worrying.

I watch my son when he’s anxious, see his little hands twisting, his teeth quietly chewing his lower lip. I suffer from anxiety that ranges from mild (on my best days) to debilitating (on my worst), my son.  I can smell it on you, but I don’t know how to quit. I’m worried I won’t be able to show you, either.

But I’m trying.  This afternoon he came to me with a worry – about an upcoming dentist appointment – and we talked about what makes him feel good.

“When you get a lot of worries in your head, what makes you feel better?” I asked.  “Mommy gets worries in her head sometimes, did you know that?”

He didn’t respond.

“When I get lots of worries, I like to listen to music,” I told him.   “And get hugs.”

He doesn’t say anything, but he lets me gather him into my arms for a quick squeeze.  And later, while I’m sweeping up the living room, he asked me what song I had playing on my phone, a light little ditty with a soothing melody.

“The Wrote and the Writ, by Johnny Flynn,” I answered.

“This song makes me feel calm,” he told me from his spot on the chair, and I made a mental note of it to have it ready to go in the car, or for those moments when the worries get too big and nothing else seems to work.

Sometimes it feels a bit fraudulent, having to navigate your child through a minefield you’re only just learning (even after a decade!) how to field yourself. Like leading someone to water and showing them where the well is, even though you’re dying of thirst. But there’s good in it, too, because it’s showing me that I do have things I can do to help relieve my anxiety. There are tools at my disposal, even if I forget them in the throes of an anxiety attack. There are people in my life who support me and who listen to me, even if they don’t exactly understand where I’m at and what I’m feeling.

I’m proud to be that support for my son, and it’s my hope that we’ll continue to grow together, every day closer still, to peace in our minds and in our hearts.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

 

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Christy Gualtieri

In Defense of Kevin McAllister’s Mother

Warning! Spoilers ahead for the plot of “Home Alone”… which was released in 1990.  If you’ve managed to go this long without hearing how this movie ends and you think you’ll be upset reading about it…well, I wouldn’t read ahead!

My son loves the first Home Alone movie. This is his second year watching it, and I love to see him absolutely doubled over, laughing at Kevin’s elaborately planned house of terrors for his enemies. I’ve loved the movie since I was a kid, and it’s a lot of fun watching the next generation enjoy it, too.

One thing that has stuck out at me over the last few years is how much I’ve identified with Kevin’s mother, Kate. She realizes, mid-flight to Paris from Chicago that she’s left her son behind, and is absolutely determined to do whatever it takes to get back to him. With no sleep, no comfort, plenty of time on airplanes, and a hitched ride with Midwestern polka players in a rental truck, she finally gets home to him. The film is, of course, mostly about Kevin and his preternatural survival skills – but in a very real way, it’s also about his mother’s journey.

Since I’ve become a mother, I’ve cried every time I watch the film when they’re finally reunited. Because I get it: even though Kate endured days of intense anguish and physical discomfort, Kevin is too young to realize it. He just knows that she’s home now; and even if someone sat him down and explained it to him, he would mostly just be happy that she made it home. And that’s what parenthood is, really – consistently placing yourself in situation after situation that will serve to benefit your children and your family above what you need. It’s painful, yes, and more often than not, uncomfortable. And your kids might not know, or understand, or even care if they do understand.

But that is what refines us as people, I think. Think of all of the hardships you’ve had to endure. How did they change you as a person? They might have made you bitter; that’s fair. Or they might have made you anxious, or beset with worry. But they might have also helped you realize that you are capable of hard things, because at the end of the day, you are still here – and you are the better for it. Maybe you’ll think smartly about certain things now, or become more cautious or pragmatic. Maybe you’ll be more patient now then you were before. More understanding. Hard things help us to become better overall…but, it’s also better to experience them with help. If you’re going through a hard time and find it difficult to believe that you can be a better person from it, please reach out for assistance, in whatever way you need it. You will get through it with somebody. And you’ll learn from your mistakes, even if it takes a few tries to let it sink in.

I mean, Kevin got lost again like two years later, in the sequel Home Alone 2. But I’m blaming that one on his Dad. Kate remembered.

Until next time, be well!
Christy